Wednesday, July 05, 2006
When a 50-50 chance of living is good news
Nearly two weeks after Katrina hit, when I thought I had seen it all, I saw more: A clinic for evacuee children with cancer, filled with children who had no homes and whose parents had been frantically searching for a place to get the chemotherapy and radiation the kids so desperately needed.

With no working telephones or computers, parents heard word of mouth about this clinic in Baton Rouge, where many of the doctors were also homeless and all were working without the children's medical records as they pieced together what each sick child needed.

As I went from exam room to exam room meeting frightened and tired families, I heard screaming. Six-year-old Tony Nata was getting a central IV line put into his chest so he could receive the treatments he'd missed. His mother showed me pictures of the family's car floating, images of all their possessions awash on the front lawn in Slidell, Louisiana, their house devastated.

Tony used to receive his treatments at Children's Hospital in New Orleans, which had closed after Katrina. Tony has leukemia and was given a 20 percent chance of living without a bone marrow transplant. Even with it, doctors gave him only about a 50-50 chance of living.

I've been following the Natas ever since, and on tonight's show, viewers finally get to see Tony having his transplant. This is what his family has been waiting for -- to see if this procedure really does save his life.

Viewers also get to meet the heroes of this story, everyone from his four-year-old sister to firefighters from New York City. His sister, Allie, underwent the three-day procedure in the hospital to give her brother bone marrow cells (as she peered into his room, she said, "I hope you love me now, Tony!").

The firefighters, who are part of a New York City group that helps others as a way of saying thank you for the help received on September 11, helped rebuild Tony's house. Later, other groups from around the country pitched in to finish the house -- about 150 people in all, working to help a boy most of them had never met.

Before the transplant, Tony and his family had been living in a FEMA trailer and a relative's home. But because the procedures that prepared him for the bone marrow transplant basically shut down his immune system, he required a very clean place to live.

I plan to keep up with the Nata family for many months to come.
Posted By Elizabeth Cohen, CNN Medical Correspondent: 6:23 PM ET
  15 Comments
Our prayers are with Tony and his family. We wish him the best of life. God Bless you all who live in Ner Orleans and have come through Katrina. Hang in there!
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann Nacogdoches, Texas : 6:46 PM ET
All I can say is, hang in there. I have had to visit the cancer center three times, because I have had three bouts of cancer. While there, I saw quite a few children with drips, it broke my heart. Even with a 50/50 chance, there is hope. One thing about children, they usually do better than adults when it comes to cancer. From what I understand, biologically, they are able to regenerate healthy cells better. Although I have not remained cancer-free, I have survived it for eight years. So there is hope,just do not give up.
Posted By Anonymous Nancy Walker, Rocklin, California : 6:51 PM ET
I remember watching his story. He's such an inspiration to many of us. I hope he has a full recovery. He will be definetely be in my prayers.
Posted By Anonymous Maria Christina Bucalan, New Orleans, LA : 7:09 PM ET
This is just one of the many sad stories that have materialized through Hurricane Katrina. People don't stop to think that the hurricane hurt more than just people's homes and material possesions...There are people who can't even get their medicine STILL, and it's about ten months after the hurricane. The sad thing is, most of these people will never have the opportunity to have their stories told to the nation. I wish they could all be able to sit in front of a camera and show the world just how bad things still are right now...Because it seems as if America has forgotten about the victims of Hurricane Katrina that are still trying to figure out how they're going to find their next meal, or how they're going to pay for medicine, or when they will be able to live a normal, happy life again. I hope all goes well with Tony and that he can get back to living a normal life like a 6 year old should.
Posted By Anonymous Tara M., Parsons, Kansas : 7:41 PM ET
After reading this story I have to admit I am completely humbled. When I think of the nights I sat here watching the post-Katrina stories and thought I myself could NEVER get through going through anything like that , I am now ashamed. This little boy and his family have gone through seemingly insurmountable problems, and thanks to their courage and the devoted care and patience of those doctors and health care workers, I will watch their progress tonight and pray I never will have to face anything like that. God bless them all.
Posted By Anonymous Bev. Whitby, Ontario, Canada : 8:16 PM ET
I wish him the west of luck in his surgery. His chances have already gone up 30% since Katrina. After surving them couple of weeks, he has proved to be areal survivor. All of America and Canada are behind you Tony. Hope to see you out and about healthy!

It's REALLY REALLy nice to hear about the nice things people do especially intimes when it seems like a lot you hear about is Iraq, Iran and North Korea. It's refreshing to hear stories of people helping to rebuild ofther peoples homes and lives, when they have lost almost everything.
Posted By Anonymous Kirsty Seddon, Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, Canada : 8:29 PM ET
Reading about the true, unconditional love of his 4 year old sister and the volunteer firemen rebuiling homes, really puts my faith back in humanity. Enough said. But I will pray for this little boy's recovery and strength to his family for either outcome.
Posted By Anonymous Katherine, Woodland Hills, CA : 8:39 PM ET
As a person born and raised in New Orleans, I would just like to say thank you to those who work on the 360 show. I lost everything when the hurricane hit, but I didn�t just loose my home, I lost the city the I so deeply have a passion for. My house was torn down this weekend and with it a piece of me. Being in the news business myself, I know how quickly the headlines will change and how American�s and the world will move on to the next disaster, leaving those still struggling behind. Keeping the spotlight on New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast is truly an important part of American history and making sure this doesn�t happen to millions of people again. Best to all who work to keep them honest!
Posted By Anonymous Kristen, Norristown, Pa : 10:52 PM ET
Lots of good stories to tell around the world, why is that you focus in only one? and for so long.!!
Posted By Anonymous Walter from Pittsburgh : 6:21 AM ET
With people along the Gulf Coast having lost everything and worrying about their health/lives on top of it all, it's a humbling reminder that no matter how bad we think we have it, there are many who have it worse.

Many people who read or participate on this forum have probably experienced what it's like to live in fear of losing someone they love who has a terminal disease - that knot in your stomach that never really goes away, it just lessens with good news and tightens with bad news. I hope that the doctors, patients and their loved ones are somehow getting the help they need and receiving timely surprises by way of kind acts and little miracles.

There are so many people around the world who are suffering and there's only so much that any government or organisation can do for them all. That's exactly why every person should take it upon themselves to get involved in their local communities to provide assistance and comfort. And if you see a need that's not being addressed - and you have ideas about how to improve things - then speak up and do something. Progress starts with small steps.

Are medical students being encouraged to volunteer along the Gulf Coast?
Posted By Anonymous Nikky, London, UK : 8:05 AM ET
God bless this little boy, his family, especially his sister,and all who have helped him and also God bless all who have been affected by Katrina... Thank you thank you thank you to all of you kind wonderful people still helping those who most of us have already forgotten as we go one with our busy lives... CNN, thank you for reminding us of these unsung heros...
Posted By Anonymous Sherry Sarasota Florida : 11:21 AM ET
My daughter is nearly 11 years old. She is my life and i cannot even imagine having to face the fears of a storm and the flood waters with her, let alone a life-threatening illness. I am blessed beyond measure. I am reminded after these stories of things and people I soe carelessly take for granted.
My heart and my prayers go out to Tony and his family as they move one step closer to "normal life." I pray his surgery goes well so that he can laugh and play as all 6 year olds should do...
Thank you for following this story and his progress for us all.
Posted By Anonymous Jill P. Fair Play, SC : 12:07 PM ET
That is an awesome and inspiring story! I hope the transplant is successful and that his cancer goes into permanent remission.

I will say prayers that him and all the other cancer patients at the hospital get well soon.
Posted By Anonymous Genevieve M, El Paso, TX : 12:16 PM ET
Hi. Thank you for doing this story. I saw a piece on the firefighters working on the house awhile back and was hoping the family profiled were doing okay. As is the case with this family, I worry about how the hazardous conditions (mold, debris, lack of electricity, problems with water pressure. etc.) are affecting all of the residents of the impacted areas, but especially those with health conditions (I have worked for years with children and adults with disabilities).

I recently wrote an article on emergency preparedness for kids with special needs (the article was inspired by watching/reading the Katrina coverage on CNN and others, but especially Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta on 360), so I hope you will allow me to steal from my own work. One of the suggestions I made in the article in was that parents of kids with special needs should make copies of their kids' medical info to keep in their "go bags" and also send a copy of this info to an out-of-state emergency contact (a trusted friend or family member) in case their own go bags get destroyed. Parents/guardians can also update these files as medical info changes. This record-keeping is also good advice for adults who have medical conditions or disabilities since, as we saw in Katrina, vital medical records can be lost in a disaster (or even if a hospital has a water pipe break or computer problems).

Everyone (whether or not they or a family member have a medical condition) can find more info on what they can do to prepare for an emergency at www.redcross.org and www.ready.gov.

My prayers are with Tony and everyone else in the Gulf who survived the hurricane as well as their life-threatening ilnesses.
Posted By Anonymous Norah, West Chester, PA : 3:55 PM ET
Such a depressing story! I definitely keep them in my prayers. What a horrible situation...
Posted By Anonymous Brandon Wallace West Lafayette Indiana : 5:38 PM ET
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